Monday Night Politics – Meet the Candidates: Forum features Dallas City Council candidates for Districts 5, 8

MNP MTC 3.11

The Dallas Examiner

Monday Night Politics – Meet the Candidates, presented by The Dallas Examiner, hosted its second forum at the African American Museum March 11 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The political forum featured candidates running for Dallas City Council in Districts 5 and 8 in the May 4 general election.

In the first hour of the forum, the candidates for District 8 took to the podium to share their vision for the southernmost district of the city.

Opening statements began with Councilman Tennell Atkins, the incumbent. He represented the district from 2007 to 2015, and began his fifth term in 2017. Atkins also serves as chair of the Economic Development and Housing Committee.

“First, good evening everyone. The reason why I am here today is to finish the things that I did not finish when I was there in 2007 to 2015, such as the Red Bird Mall. Red Bird Mall was going broke, and in the last nine months when I got there, we came up with $22 million with the help of Mayor Mike Rawlings and also with the community coming down to city hall – 300 people showing their support for Red Bird Mall.

“I also got on with Singing Hills Rec Center before I left in 2015. The rec center was built without a gymnasium, without a single program, single project, so now we got that going. Also the DART rail line came back within four years ahead of schedule. … We have all those amenities that we never had.… There is great opportunity to serve you, to come back and continue my work. If you want to look at my work, we do have districts online, you can go to it; it tells you exactly what I’ve done in the last eight years and going forward.”

Following Atkins was Erik Wilson. First elected in 2015, Wilson narrowly lost a re-election campaign in the runoff election against Atkins in 2017. Wilson served as deputy mayor pro tem during his time on the council.

“Good evening. Before I begin, I want to clear up a couple of parlor tricks that my opponent is putting out and perpetuating. First of all, in no way, it is not true that I would take a position to where I would run for one year and allow him to come back. Two, I would never, and am not supported by any mayoral candidate out there. As a matter of fact, my position on that is anybody but [Scott] Griggs.

“Now let me start with the elephant in the room. Yes, I did vote for a charter school that was not in my district. And I do agree that there are too many charter schools in Southern Dallas. But if I, like you, agree with that and am upset about the number of charter schools, then you should be highly upset at the five charter schools that my opponent approved in his first eight years in office.

“In addition to that, my opponent enjoys receiving the money from porn store owners. … And finally, to say that my opponent, according to the Dallas Morning News article, admits that he was a tool for the establishment, and was readily used and readily served at their will, and that he did not listen to the community. He followed the directions of the business establishment and not the community.”

The forum was then opened up for questions from constituents. The need for bathrooms at DART stations, the lack of proper sewage infrastructure, the cleanup of Shingle Mountain, the proliferation of charter schools, the prevalence of “trash hotels,” and the progress of the Wheatland Road development project was addressed.

Question: How did the new Wheatland Road develop-ment come about?

Wilson: That development did come about in the bond package of 2006. There was $5 million dollars for the new development of the Wheatland Road project. But that had been held up since 2006. When I was in office in 2015, I authorized the development for that to continue, for that to start, for there to be services – water and sewer to be integrated in the Wheatland Road, as well as in the bond package and set up for the future bond package program for there to be water services for the entire University Boulevard. It is a fact that my opponent did hold that up because he did not want the African American landowners to sell their property at a high price. He wanted it to be sold at a lower price for either White or Asian developers to come in and buy the property from them. He wanted to make sure that property stayed at a lower value, as opposed to allowing development, which hurts not only District 8, but the city, for opportunity for economic growth in the area.

Atkins: In 2006, there was a bond package with $5 million for infrastructure. Also in 2006, there was also $5.2 million for economic opportunity for Wheatland Road. Wheatland Road should not accept the $5.2 million that’s supposed to be for economic development opportunities for someone to grow business. The land owners there, their zone is agriculture and also housing, which is lower tax rate. If you increase that, you increase the property value. And then we’d be put out, overpriced. Wheatland Road right now is not going to be completed until 2023. Now we got $15 million on Wheatland Road, can’t even flush the toilet because the sewage goes north and south. Therefore, I’m in the process right now of trying my best to come up with $5 million in order to put infrastructure throughout UNT of Dallas.

Question: If elected or re-elected, what programs do you as a candidate have that will move the progress of the people that live in your district forward?

Wilson: Part of what I was able to accomplish was a joint partnership between Paul Quinn College and UNTD that deals with social or mental issues, in terms of collaborations for the area. This helps in police calls and in terms of distressed individuals, to be able to help with that. Programs that help people individually? Much like I did for AT&T when they wanted to develop downtown, I required that they have minority contractors – not for the dirt, but for the preconstruction, for the engineering, for the architecture, for the accounting – those are the types of programs that I can make sure that are done. As well as continue to work with our workforce development partners and to make sure that we have programs that are a continuation from the high schools to the colleges – our partnerships not only with Cedar Valley but also with UNTD and Paul Quinn College.

Atkins: The program that we have, we’ve got to talk about the youth. We just started a program with the youth after school, trying to educate the kids. We got a pilot program to do recycling – to go to communities to teach people how to recycle. The other program we talk about, re-entry program. Now we are taking those ex-offenders, and now they can work in the city, in the county. We’ve got a whole lot of African Americans who come back home who want to have a better life, but they cannot have a better life because they cannot work – we turn them down. Now in the city of Dallas, we hire ex-offenders, the county hires ex-offenders. That is a program that will help the community, help the family, get back into reality, get back to life.

The second hour of the forum was dedicated to the three City Council candidates for District 5, which unifies the Pleasant Grove/Southeast Dallas area. The incumbent, Rickey Callahan, will not seek re-election this spring.

Opening statements started with Yolanda “Faye” Williams, a Dallas native who has served on the city of Dallas Park and Recreation Board since 2014.

“Good afternoon. I’ve been residing in Pleasant Grove for 45 years, so the reason I am running is to continue what I’ve done, and I’m going to go through this brief. I’m not going to tell you all about Pleasant Grove; we all know that Pleasant Grove is the forgotten city. In 2012, that was the last bond. In 2013, they had redistricting. There were two people from Pleasant Grove fighting for Pleasant Grove – not one of my opponents on this stage was downtown. It was Camille White and myself. We were at City Hall, 12 and 1 o’clock at night, making sure all of Pleasant Grove got their due share. I didn’t stand there advocating for African Americans; I didn’t stand there advocating for Hispanics; I didn’t stand there advocating for Whites. I tell everyone we have a diverse district. I’ve been living with Hispanics for 45 years; I’ve been living in a 60 percent Hispanic community. So what this race really is about – it’s about the best candidate.

“Throughout this series, you will hear how hard I work for Park and Rec. If you all go to Crawford Park – it was nothing there. In two years, you will be able to go to Crawford Park and it will look like it’s White Rock Lake. $7.2 million – I fought to get that in the bond. … So what you are going to see tonight is that I am the best candidate. I have been fighting for Pleasant Grove; I have been advocating. I’m not a pop-up candidate, and I am a woman with integrity, loyalty, and I work hard for all of Pleasant Grove.”

Following Williams was Jaime Resendez, a U.S. Army veteran and practicing attorney. In 2016, he was elected to the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees.

“The reason I am here today is obviously I am running for District 5 in Southeast Dallas, which includes several neighborhoods, including Pleasant Grove. I grew up in Pleasant Grove. I grew up around gangs, drugs and violence. My parents are immigrants; they worked hard to make a living, but still struggled to make ends meet. When I was young, I didn’t like not having things, and I remember watching TV – I would see people that had an education, they were engineers, doctors, lawyers. And I said, you know what: Every time I see them on TV, they never seem to be broke. So I need to come up with a plan to get an education.

“The plan I developed was to join the military. I was 17 years old when I joined – that’s the experience that changed my life. I was in Baghdad, Iraq, for a year. People were dying on the same streets I was on. So I came to Dallas with a completely different outlook on life. I enrolled at Eastfield [College] in Mesquite. I started reading everything that was assigned, and I started making A’s. I transferred to UNT Dallas and ultimately graduated from the University of Texas School of Law. When I was elected in 2016, it was an honor to serve on the DISD board for nearly three years. One of the things I learned when I was on the school board – to me, education is the foundation of society, but education does not happen in a vacuum. There are housing issues that impact education, criminal justice issues, economic develop-ment, equity, and that’s why I’m running for City Council, and I hope to have y’all’s support.”

Following Resendez was Ruth Torres, a business-woman originally from Chicago, raised in Miami. She is a member of Christians in Public Service and the Texas Organizing Project, as well as an active community advocate and volunteer.

“I am running because I am sick and tired of the status quo. I’m tired of big business coming in and robbing people of equity. I’m a single mom; I’ve raised five kids. Three of them I raised because their mothers died because of illness, and I raised them when no one else would take them. And I have a responsibility for my kids and everyone’s kids to make things better. I’m tired of the status quo and I hope you are too. I have spent over 20 years fighting on the issues. And I have been in Dallas almost 10 years now, and I have been here fighting for the issues. For at-risk youth, for homelessness, affordable housing. I’ve been here on that; I’ve been fighting for workers’ rights and for workforce development, the social justice issues and education.

“The charter school issue is huge. I am the only candidate not being supported by charter schools, because I am going to fight to protect our public school system. My people perish for lack of wisdom – that’s what the word of God says, and that is true. Our education is the birthplace of institutional racism and cycles of poverty, and we better protect our education.”

In the open Q&A session that followed, community members touched on a range of issues, from education to economic development. The top priorities spotlighted by residents were opportunities and programs for the district’s youth and senior citizens, the impact of charter schools, and the ways candidates plan to bring quality jobs and businesses into the area.

Question: What is the incentive for youth to get involved in this election?

Torres: That’s a great question. First of all, I was down at City Hall advocating to decriminalize our teen curfew, because 90 percent of those kids that are being arrested for the curfew are Black and Brown, and that’s not the demographics of the city. The White kids are being taken home, and the Black and Brown kids are going to juvie. That contributes to the pipeline to prison. That’s a problem. The youth should also care because of education and jobs. I’ll give you a perfect example. The charter schools in Pleasant Grove are killing us. Kids are coming out every year without a high school degree and no skilled training. We need workforce development to get these kids skills.

Resendez: I think it’s extremely important for our youth to be involved with voting, not just in District 5, but overall, throughout the city, state and the country. What I tell kids, young folks, when I knock on doors and ask them if they’re voters, and they say, “Nah, I don’t vote. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make a difference. It’s not going to impact me.” I make it a point to let them know, that from the day you are born to the day you die, you are involved in politics, whether you vote or not. So you better be voting. If you don’t agree with what’s going on on the federal level, on the state level, you better vote and consider running. So obviously it is very important. I grew up in a Hispanic culture. A lot of immigrants don’t come here with civic engagement. My mom is from an extremely rural part of Mexico. My dad is from the inner city. They don’t vote over there. So I think that is something that we need to work on as a community, to make sure that all these people are involved.

Williams: Let me just correct something. I am not being supported by the charters. I have spent $10,000 of my own funds, so that’s just how important this seat is. Now let me tell you why it’s important. I used to be the park board representative over there where I live – born and raised. So I’ve stayed involved, and I’m staying involved. The reason why I hustle and work so hard is because I was a rec kid. I was a kid where I couldn’t afford to do anything, but the rec was our outlet. So it’s important that the youth vote because I’m 50. I’m going to retire and pass the torch. So I think that’s why it’s important. It’s also important to educate the youth on what’s the issue, and why should they be voting. And I tell people, I’m not a feel-good candidate. I refuse to let North Dallas tell us what’s best for us, and we have issues.

Question: What is the plan to clean up the negative image of Pleasant Grove?

Williams: Great question. I’m just a little old young lady with a masters in marketing. If you follow me on social media, my hashtag is #PleasantGroveProud. Every time we have something – I brag on the harsh part, because that’s our community; I brag on the golf course, because people don’t think that we have great things. So I would like to say I have really been trying to do my part, but as a council member, yes, they need to put some dollars in there and rebrand it. And not only rebrand it, also – and this goes back to the community, I’m sorry – my neighbors will tell you I call code on you in a heartbeat after I done warned you and talked to you about your clutter and trash. I want you all to go to my neighborhood – they’ll tell you: She’s rough, but we love her. I can’t stand here and run for City Council and not hold my own community accountable, and that’s the problem. I don’t have friends when it comes to my community.

Torres: We’re going to change the content of Pleasant Grove and District 5, and the image is going to come with it. I’d rather put the money into developing the people and developing the businesses there, and the image will change because we’ve developed it. We need to make the changes there – the substance changes and the image will come. So that’s what I would say. I want to be very wise in how we spend money. We’ve got many problems in City Hall. We’ve got plenty of problems in every government with lack of ethics and lack of accountability, lack of including everyone in the community before they make decisions, and that needs to change, and that will change with me as your representative for District 5.

Resendez: Although it’s not as impactful when you agree with both of your opponents, I’m going to agree with both of my opponents. I think we need to do a little bit of both. You put some money into the marketing, and I think that’s extremely important, but if you don’t change the content then it doesn’t matter, the perception will still be there. But I do believe that I’m the ideal candidate to do this because I feel like I exemplify both Southeast Dallas’ struggle and Southeast Dallas’ potential. If all of our kids can obtain, living off 175 to getting a high-level degree at an elite education, I think that would go a long way in the change of perception to our community.

The next Monday Night Politics – Meet the Candidates forum will feature Dallas City Council candidates for Districts 7, March 25 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the African American Museum, located at 3636 Grand Ave.


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